Nate Maxson

Ghost-Chain Experiment

There is a way, to look at the sky forever
(nickels tarnished from the fire
over the eyes of the dead,
afloat on the river of forgetfulness)

Fall backwards, that’s the way

In the north they hunt wolves from helicopters
And rarely make eye contact

Fall backwards
That’s the way

The river will carry you
Out to bigger waters

Salt on the wind
The faint sound of an animal licking its wounds
The tapes are spinning now
Posterity against entropy
It’s your decision
Fall backwards into memory, or sing


Execution Koan 

After Bertolt Brecht’s “What Keeps Mankind Alive”

When I contemplate winter, and I have been for years
What keeps mankind alive? Asks the business casual national anthem, well
An object in a snow globe,
You separate time and keep it in your hands
Like a chunk of ice, post-blizzard (how we measure the days in here)
Unaware and hopelessly obvious
Like anatomically correct saints, served al fresco
Or pigs with human heart transplants
When I think of the cold,
What keeps the process going when it’s briefly separate from the body
A false memory
Like how I swear I remember
Seeing Timothy McVeigh’s execution,
The same day as my twelfth birthday
Broadcast live on network television
The effect of building such objects
Backwards and behind us,
These labyrinths
After this
It’s where old maps would say
“Terra Incognita”, unknown earth: the end of the century
When I contemplate the cold
When I assume the cold goes forever
Never gets tired, never flags
Never stops chasing you
Like cancer, like a boot wearing Freudian god, like losing interest in your toys
Half the world underwater
When I contemplate…
When I grab hold of what’s inside
Smooth glass walls
How much is snow and how much is confetti?
This summer of 2001 where certain of my organs still live in the sun
My birthday, the execution date delayed forever
Somehow I remember the event, down to the static on the screen

If you see red
Like a bull, like a boy
It means you’re not
Like summer
The outdated
Opposite number
Swallow, swallow
Bestial acts, stopwatches to time the surgery
To make sure where we put the heart stays chilled
The autoclaving of what we make, memory a step behind
A room full of silence
Is silent
When it isn’t 


The Myth Of Rivers 

Spooky action, the magnetism of water to air (I’ll begrudge the scientists this much)
The gravity gathering strength in clouds of silt
The river is full up with the discarded rings and teeth of pilots stripped to baptism
Sent down among the bulrushes,
I remember the whispered riddles of those who passed below in darkness
Do cranes sleep midflight like one eyed sharks?
All the children dipped by their mothers in subconscious imitation of Achilles
Dropped and vanished like stones
Too surprised to howl
That you would name this,
Says everything I want to know

That you would attempt
To name the river like a singularity and not a motion
That you would attempt to assume a single name for Lethe

We repeat these circles until their trail becomes a black sphere of ink on paper
A map to the vanishing
My hands tracing figures on stained glass, on clay
On willow and oak
In the sway: pure things distinguished into silence
I pulled this from the river

An urn full of light
That cannot be
Let go


History Stops In 1975, Now Get Out

They are evacuating Saigon forever
The helicopter will hover there in black and white
Waiting just for you
We have faith in the moment that time stopped
That the frame will not advance,
Not a flicker
Unless we say so
So tell me,
Regarding this operation
I know it’s perfectly safe
And my insurance covers it
But when they separate my soul from my skin
A game of chance
Nine lives to a cat and two sides to a coin:
Which side will I land on this time?



The burial habits of the Great Horned American Dung Beetle
Chapter one

We do it
Like this
We make the bread
We roll the rock
On hills
On beds
On desks,
And on interstate scrublands where nobody walks when it snows
See this weight fastened around my neck?
It’s purely symbolic
I assure you
We scratch everything we sell with our bare hands
Into the permafrost for a further source of light

What we find is what we left
What we remember is what we forget
In theory a brighter baptism,
It’s the furrows and harps that make the mystery object grind and turn so smoothly
Not the daylight
But where momentum ceased to carry
To illuminate the excavation
The next time I make my high dive
I’ll need an even bigger millstone


Author’s Note

Nate MaxsonThere’s a playful postmodernism that characterizes most of my poetry. My poem “Execution Koan” is based on what I presume is a false memory that I have of seeing Timothy McVeigh executed on live television on my 12th birthday. I did some research before I finished writing it and I discovered that he did in fact petition the governor of Oklahoma to broadcast his death on TV but obviously that didn’t happen. But I remember it. So where does that leave me?

Borjes is one of my favorite writers and the way he finds ways of switching the reader’s mind back and forth between different places, of holding multiple truths, that’s what I want: the electric feedback caused by holding a truth in each hand like tesla coils hissing. If I am interested in current events it is in the zeitgeist of what we are dreaming, if that makes any sense. If we are dreaming terrible dreams together then that is where the world seeps into my writing because poetry is a matter of dreaming while awake. I’m not an explicitly political writer. This is a difficult position to take in these interesting because they are central to so much poetry being written right now. I’m much more curious about ghosts, about the weights that people carry in their hearts through time than I am about the agreed upon world.

To me each word exists in context. Gertrude Stein’s famous line from “Sacred Emily”, “A Rose Is A Rose” is an attempt to strip the word from context but to me the context IS the word. Each word carries a thousand years of baggage on it and echoes through time, a spiritual etymology. A rose is a rose but the word rose is something entirely different.  That’s an interpretation of the Christian concept of Logos. It’s the animating spirit pushing the whole thing along, what’s swimming under the poem that I really want to make dance. My poem “History Stops In 1975, Now Get Out” was inspired by the legendary photograph of the last American helicopter leaving Saigon at the end of the Viet Nam war. What that photo means and what was actually happening in it are possibly very different things. It’s possible it wasn’t actually the final helicopter just like it’s possible that the marines hoisting the flag at Iwo Jima was staged and so on and so on. But it’s the myth, the cultural object, that interests me.

The poems “The Myth Of Rivers” and “Anthropology” are both concerned with what in the former is referred to as “the mystery object” and it’s that context that can’t be taken away from any word that creates it. There’s a riddle inside that poem and it ends with my misquoting a line from the movie “Jaws”. That’s what I want each poem to be, a little box with something inexplicable inside (my penchant for Greek mythology is showing here). I’m not a scientist. When I find something unknown I want to allow it to exist in its unsolved state for as long as I can.  So that’s where I’m at with the poems I’ve got here and in most of writing, the borders of the dreamlands, because dreams are what makes the world’s clock keep ticking.


Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. The author of several collections of poetry, he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He discovered poetry as a youth the way other people might find drugs or religion and hasn’t looked back since.